The Wolf Man (1941)

directed by George waggner
universal pictures company inc.

Not only is this movie not frightening in the least, this reviewer has no idea how or why it has been lauded through the decades as even a competent endeavor, much less an estimable one. Did I say “not frightening”? It’s completely ridiculous, helped in no way by the laughable attempt at dramatics presented by Lon Chaney, Jr. Let me emphasize the generational suffix; this is not the lauded “Man of a Thousand Faces,” it’s his son, who benefits from this picture’s dime-store makeup disguising his general inability to act naturally. Also not helping: the entire film is very obviously shot on the studio lot. Additionally, it’s dismaying to be treated to no shots of Larry Talbot’s transformations. (Those scenes take place in the various sequels.) A “B” picture through and through, presented such that even the underlying existential crisis isn’t at all provocative.

why did i watch this movie?

The Wolf Man is number eight in Johnny Ramone’s top 10.

should you watch this movie?

When we were small children, my older brother and I played with this ancient “Monster” Old Maid set

Milton Bradley, 1964

and I always gravitated toward the Wolf Man card.

(This one)

(Not this one)








Do you feel similar nostalgic twinges, I wonder. Maybe you’re a budding film historian. Or a Ramones fan.

highlight and low point

The sets are admittedly impressive. Indeed, it’s hard for me to conceive of how much work and preparation went into this two-month shoot, especially when the script itself is so slipshod. For a running time of barely an hour and 10 minutes, certain lines of dialogue are repeated an astonishing number of times. Endearing touches include some of the el cheapo effects and sly, sardonic details bordering on the self-referential, such as this one:

(click to enlarge)

rating from outer space: D+

Freaks (1932)

directed by tod browning

Disjointed as hell due to excessive editing undertaken in a doomed effort to make a disturbing revenge picture even somewhat palatable to a viewing public it never found, this disastrous flop remains one of Hollywood’s most ill-advised creations – for any number of reasons, not limited to how it may make its audience feel. One can only imagine how appalling the excised material must have been, and marvel as to the effect it could have added to a production that remains troubling after nearly a century. The decision to cast real circus sideshow performers was perhaps an inevitability, but the majority of them aren’t film actors and can’t much pretend to be. Saddest, though, is probably the loss of the chance to really experience the capacity for a full range of emotional responses from these morbidly maligned people, as only glimpses remain. As it is, 60-odd minutes doesn’t give anything of real resonance a real chance to coalesce, and what we’re left with often plays like a soap opera interspersed with sitcom skits. How this one ever got the green light remains a question to ponder.

why did i watch this movie?

It’s number nine on Johnny Ramone’s list, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise as it was a huge influence on his band. They identified, but that story’s been told elsewhere. (Marky’s Punk Rock Blitzkrieg might tell it best.)

should you watch this movie?

If the original print existed, I might say yes. But it doesn’t.

highlight and low point

The scene that most inspired the Ramones – the “One of us! One of us!” wedding dinner – remains a powerful and chilling experience. Those that seem to exist for comic relief at the expense of one or more of the title freaks are unfortunate.

rating from outer space: {   }

Psycho (1960)

directed by alfred hitchcock
shamley productions

I’m sure it’s been noted before, but the attention to detail in this movie astounded me, such as the scene wherein Arbogast is looking for clues to Marion’s disappearance in the Bates Motel’s office parlor – where Norman is displaying his stuffed birds – and the bookshelf behind him holds a full set of books entitled The Art of Taxidermy. So it’s a bit surprising, I guess, that certain other important factors seem so transparent, or even dishonest. Of course, that’s nitpicking, and anyone who doesn’t think this is a high-quality cinematic achievement … probably doesn’t care for noir films or suspense, or pulp fiction. Hitchcock himself must have thought he had a goldmine here, however, as he went ahead and made it despite Paramount’s objections and refusal to budget it appropriately. That worked out all right.

why did i watch this movie?

Noted horror film aficionado and memorabilia collector Johnny Ramone designated Psycho no. 10 in his personal Top 10 in the appendices to his posthumous autobiography Commando. Since the Ramones rank in my personal Rock Band Top 10, and I am a fan of these dumb films anyway, it seemed only right and natural to compare and contrast.

should you watch this movie?

Haven’t you seen it?

highlight and low point

I’ll pick two scenes to exemplify these extremes. The first is the scene where Arbogast is cagily picking his way through Norman’s story that no one’s been to the motel for a while. Anthony Perkins does a tremendous job stumbling over his lies and attempts to dissemble. The other is the terrible, terrible penultimate scene in which the psychiatrist explains the whole thing … and explains it, and explains it, and EXPLAINS it, sucking out a little more of the film’s mystique with every florid sentence. What. A. Drag.

Rating from outer space: B+

kids: don’t do drugs
(click to enlarge)